Funny Thing ... auctions
George Hamlin IV, Matt Murphy needs you.
Hamlin is president and CEO of Canandaigua National Bank and Trust Co. But he wears a number of other hats: Pilot, community booster, occasional thespian and, this past spring, would-be saviour of the financially burdened.
The burdened one, in this case, was Krystine Hetelekides, owner of the Akropolis Family Restaurant. She had failed to make her county tax payments on time, so the restaurant was foreclosed upon and put up for auction.
Because she had lost her husband the previous year, Hetelekides was a sympathetic figure and many wondered why the county couldn't make an exception and let her keep the family business — by paying up the back taxes, for instance. Ontario County leaders took so much heat, one official only half-kiddingly breathed a sigh of relief when the season's first dog-left-in-a-hot-car story ran, surmising it would finally divert the public's attention.
Into this fracas stepped Hamlin — with a plan: At the auction, Hamlin would bid $25,000, enough to cover the back taxes and related expenses. Then, if no one outbid him, he would turn the mortgage over to Hetelekides and everyone would live happily ever after. (Except the county, which would lose the profit it stood to make should the bids run well beyond the amount it was owed.)
This little bit of local history becomes suddenly relevant, given the plight of Murphy, the 21-year-old Long Islander who had the mixed fortune of snaring Barry Bonds' record-breaking 756th homerun ball.
Baseball fan that he is — a Mets fan, in fact, which is even better — Murphy wanted to keep the ball as a souvenir. But he didn't count on the Internal Revenue Service (and when it comes to collecting tax revenue, they're even more cut-throat than Ontario County).
Since the Bonds baseball's estimated value is more than half a million dollars, Murphy was told, he'd have to pony up the taxes on it — something in the neighborhood of $200,000-plus. Holding onto a piece of history thus became prohibitively expensive, and Murphy announced plans to sell the ball online.
"It was simple math," he told the Associated Press. "I’m upset by the decision I had to make. I’m young. I don’t have the bank account. ... It would have cost me a lot more to keep it.”
You see where I'm going with this, right? Wouldn't it be wonderful if the bidding world somehow pulled a Hamlin; if baseball fans and collectors colluded to let the kid keep the ball; if they threw an auction and nobody came?
Here's how it would work: Murphy puts the ball up for sale. Nobody bids. Nobody!
Given Bonds' suspected steroid use, an argument could be made that no true fan or collector wanted to buy into a tainted piece of sports history. In any case, the requisite number of days pass, and no one offers a cent.
What happens then?
The IRS is forced to admit that the intrinsic value of the ball is, rather than $500,000, $0.00. Murphy, freed from the exorbitant onus of a six-figure tax bill, could keep the ball as a milestone-marking memento.
Could it work?
Well, recall that at the Akropolis auction, Hamlin's initial bid was quickly trumped and trumped again. It wasn't until Hetelekides' brother-in-law offered $160,000 that the gavel finally fell and the restaurant stayed in the family.
There's no reason to believe that things would be any different with one of the most valuable pieces of sports memorabilia to come up for sale in years.
Still, in the throes of the Akropolis affair, George Hamlin could dream.
And so can I.
Kevin Frisch is managing editor of the Daily Messenger in Canandaigua, N.Y. Contact him at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 257, or via e-mail at KFrisch@MPNewspapers.com.